Music Workshops

Schubert Ensemble Workshop

Alongside its Concert Series and Jubilee Bursary Competition, Perth Chamber Music organises a programme of music workshops that takes professional musicians into schools and community venues.

Introduced in 2012, the events have reached over 3,500 children and young people across the region from Aberfeldy to Kinross and Blairgowrie to Crieff. The Reviews below describe the settings and formats in which they have taken place. These include primary, secondary and special needs schools, village halls and a care home. Formats have ranged from masterclasses and ensemble coaching to mini-concerts, composition sessions and musical games.

Plans for the 20-21 programme have had to be changed during the COVID restrictions.

Because entry into schools currently is not possible, we have found technical ways to deliver workshops online. Reviews of the Dunning and Forgandenny events by the violin/cello duo Sequoia can be found below.

The Sequoia Duo (violin and cello) used Zoom to coach the Dunning Primary School string ensemble, and played and involved three class-size ‘bubbles’ as a Christmas treat for Forgandenny Primary School.

Manchester-based A4 Brass hope to deliver their school workshops for us using a mix of Zoom and film. This model has exciting potential for wider use.

PCM is indebted to the Thomson Charitable Trust, Chamber Music Scotland, the Guildry Incorporation of Perth, RWE Lochelbank Community Fund, Carbon Financial Partners and RJ Lang Trust for their generous support of these initiatives.

Forgandenny Online Workshop

Sequoia Duo workshop participants

The second rearranged workshop by Sequoia, a string duo with Alice Rickards on violin and Sonia Cromarty on cello, took place on 17th December 2020 at Forgandenny Primary School. In a number of ways it contrasted with the earlier, home-based event in Dunning. It was delivered online as part of the Christmas celebrations for each of the school’s three classes. Instead of Zoom, it used Microsoft Teams, through Glow; this facility is part of the schools online communication, collaboration and creation tools used by teachers and learners, with which the children and teachers were already familiar.

The three sessions differed in content according to age-group. The Christmas theme took the children on a forest walk to spot robins, snowflakes, holly and even wax-cap fungi. Along the way there were rhythmic games with clapping and body percussion, conducting opportunities, a drawing activity, music by David Fennessy and Eddie McGuire, an introduction to the violin and cello and playing techniques, and lots of listening, questions and two-way chat. It all ended with a final free dance to Jingle Bells.

Alice Rickards on violin and Sonia Cromarty on cello

Every activity was referred to in the children’s own feedback forms, showing that all the elements had “hit the spot”. Describing how the workshop had made them feel, they used words like: excited, calm, cosy, happy and sometimes sad, emotional, elegant, mindful and (in the Christmas spirit) joyful and Christmassy! The staff and Sequoia were equally positive about the whole day.

Looking at the two workshops there were some limitations: technical hiccups such as interrupted communication and erratic internet connection, and COVID restrictions that prevented the use of singing. The limitations were mitigated by thorough preparation and trial runs. On the positive side, the teachers’ and children’s familiarity with the technology was an advantage. The online approach also resulted in far greater direct communication between Sequoia, the Dunning violin teacher and the school. In the case of Dunning it also meant that whole families (from younger siblings to grandparents) could take part without moving from their homes, a huge bonus.

Sequoia Duo workshop participants

Taken together, the two workshops have demonstrated that successful online events can be run in, and around, schools. They show that committed professional ensembles can help in a unique way to break the dearth of live music and the isolation in which schools, particularly primary age in rural areas, find themselves during the prolonged pandemic.

For more information about the online workshops, please email Perth Chamber Music on or Sequoia on or Louise Kelly on

Chamber Music Scotland and Perth Chamber Music would welcome any information about similar initiatives by other music societies, professional ensembles or schools.

Dunning Primary Leads the Way (First Zoom Workshop Review)

Sequoia Duo workshop on Zoom

One of the saddest consequences of the pandemic has been the demise of school music workshop programmes across Scotland. While schools remain no-go areas to outsiders, professional musicians are unable to visit them to coach, play, and give children and young people an experience of the thrills of live music.

This dearth has lasted for many months. But Dunning Primary School in South Perthshire has now found a way through. The school has an 18-strong violin group, thanks to a collaboration with local parent violinist Joelle Broad. On 30th November, the Glasgow based Sequoia Duo (violinist Alice Rickards and cellist Sonia Cromarty) “zoomed” into the homes of the violin group for an on-line evening of coaching, play-along and fun-and-games. The audience was swelled by 48 mums and dads, brothers and sisters, and grandparents who were able to eavesdrop and join in the fun, armed with an assortment of improvised kitchen instruments.

Sequoia Duo workshop participants

The success of the venture was due to several factors: hostess Joelle Broad’s skills in overcoming the limitations of Zoom; Sequoia’s meticulous preparation which made light of their own enforced social-distancing under Glasgow’s Level 4 restrictions; and a programme which maximised coaching opportunities and audience participation. The musical journey led from Bach to live Scottish composers, and from bees on foxgloves and shark-infested seas out to the islands of St. Kilda and Fair Isle and ultimately to Shetland.

On the way, Sequoia Duo had everyone miming, conducting, playing, banging, scraping, shaking and even playing Picture Consequences. It all ended in a great musical encounter with the Trolls of Shetland that brought the evening to an exciting close.

The event was made possible by local charity Perth Chamber Music, with generous grants from the Thomson Trust and Chamber Music Scotland.

Building on the Dunning experience, more PCM workshops in schools are in the pipeline, by way of Zoom and film.

Fireworks Aplenty

Brodsky Quartet in workshop at Kinross High School

The music workshop of the Brodsky Quartet on 5th November 2019 provided fireworks aplenty for an audience of 500 children and young people from Kinross High and Kinross and Milnathort Primary schools.

First off was a coaching session on Piazzolla’s Libertango with rat-a-tat discussion between the High School’s eight-strong string ensemble and the Quartet. Confidence growing, the ensemble then volunteered to play the Tango and Elgar’s Idyll to 200+ of the school’s music students and players.

This was the start of the second session, before the Quartet gave a concert that ranged across Ravel and Britten to a contemporary take on Beethoven. There followed a chance for the music pupils to put searching questions to the Quartet about its history, inspirations and aspirations.

Brodsky Quartet in concert at Kinross High School

As the High School students filed out of one door, the primary schools arrived for a second concert of even greater contrasts. Restful Mendelssohn, funky Kinks, questions from all over the hall and finally a foot-stamping performance of Copland’s Hoe-Down.

The world-renowned Brodsky’s played last week in Switzerland and next week will be in Mexico, but today Kinross was centre stage.

The Morning After the Night Before

Navarra Quartet in workshop at Perth Grammar School

The visit of the Navarra String Quartet to Perth was a double triumph. The morning after their outstanding concert for Perth Chamber Music on 16th January 2019, they visited Perth Grammar School and gave a sparkling workshop with music students and players from across the school.

At each end of the morning, the Navarras performed movements of the Ravel Quartet and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. Between them was a long, hard-working, intense coaching session playing, dissecting and learning from a Bach Chorale and a Vivaldi String Work. The Quartet peppered their advice with demonstrations, anecdotes, analogies and physical tips. They drew on stories of the composers, poetry and literature, even on Japanese caligraphy, all to illustrate points and implant thoughts and images to help practice and playing. The Perth Grammar School players’ improvement was evident.

The final piece of advice was from Samuel Beckett: “Accept failure, but when you fail again, try to fail better.”

It was sad that such a productive morning had to finish, but it was good to know that the Navarras would be back to play in Perth next October.

Three Pianos and a Giant Shallot

Pomegranate Piano Trio workshop at Kilgraston School

On 17th November, the Pomegranate Piano Trio gave the opening music workshop of PCM’s 70th season at Kilgraston School in Bridge of Earn. Appropriately for a girls’ school, their mini-concert opened with a movement of a trio by the remarkable Clara Schumann. Further inspiring excerpts followed, from the Ravel Trio and Beethoven’s Archduke Trio. The concert was also the first in a new series of lunchtime events at Kilgraston and the enthusiastic audience was drawn from across its junior and senior schools, parents and the local community.

The Pomegranate Trio introduced the music with explanations and anecdotes from their extensive travels, including the audience member who was expecting to see three pianos, and the airline who were perplexed by cellist Rebecca’s request to book a seat for her instrument. They thought she was asking about a “shallot”!

In the second session of the workshop, the Trio worked with the school’s 15-strong string ensemble. Good progress was made. The workshop came to a satisfying climax when the ensemble gave its first full performance of Et Misericordia in front of an audience of pupils.

Grand Finale

The last workshop of PCM’s 2017/18 season was also one of the last ever to be given by the Schubert Ensemble, as the world-famous piano quartet prepares to disband after 35 years. It took place at Perth Grammar School on 8th March 2018. 60 pupils attended, all instrument players, members of the school’s orchestra and bands or studying for music exams. The workshop was planned to help them with both their playing and their exam compositions.

The morning flowed with lively discussion of playing techniques, group exercises, demonstrations of communication and sound effects, and extensive excerpts to show how compositions could be constructed and listeners’ attention held. Two contemporary works by Charlotte Bray and Judith Weir, both recently commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble, were analysed and played, along with pieces by Faure and Dvorak, and a Russian folksong from the collection of the late Max Jaffa.

The final exhortation “if you want maximum satisfaction, play with pals!” neatly summed up the key to the Ensemble’s long and successful career.

Bridging the Gap

Cameo Clarinets workshop at Moncrieffe Care Home

Moncrieffe Care Home in Bridge of Earn was the setting for PCM’s first intergenerational event. The vilage’s nursery children joined forces with residents at the home for a morning of music-making, led by professional musicians Cameo Clarinets.

It was a win-win, win-win event. For the 17 children who were riveted by the sounds and sights within touching distance (the bass clarinet was a real “hit”). For the residents who were equally focused on the music and their young visitors. For the players whose varied programme was so well received. And for Perth Chamber Music for bringing music to two new audiences.

Session One turned the residents’ lounge into a menagerie of pink panthers, elephants and bumble bees. Session Two, after the children had left, had the audience singing along to arrangements of favourite Scots melodies.

Special thanks are due to Moncrieffe Care Home, PKC’s Creative Communities Fund and Danielle Price of Enterprise Music Scotland who, with the musicians, had battled atrocious weather to reach Bridge of Earn.

Q. How many bits make up a clarinet?
A. Seven!

Fun and Games at Oakland Primary School

Oakland Primary school was the venue of Cavendish Winds’ workshop in Perth on 20th February 2018. Current winners of the Tunnell Trust Award, the Quintet came armed with an array of musical games that held the two audiences of Primary 6 and Primary 7 pupils rapt. There was no shortage of volunteers to find the highest, lowest, loudest and softest instrument, to spot a cunningly hidden tune and best of all, to don the conductor’s white gloves and take charge of the music-making with hilarious results.

Between the games we had pieces of Debussy, Danzi, and even Ligeti, and lots of questions about reeds, rapping and favourite instruments. A toe-tapping performance of Piazzolla’s Libertango brought the two sessions to a rousing conclusion.

The workshop reached an estimated 130 pupils, including several wind-players from nearby Perth High School.

Let’s Go For It!

Members of the Brodsky Quartet in workshop at Strathallan School

This was the rallying cry of the Brodsky Quartet on 10th October when they launched the first music workshop of the 2017/18 season. They had come to Strathallan School in Forgandenny for a morning of intensive coaching with two of the school’s groups, working on Elgar’s Serenade for Strings.

The Brodsky’s approach was to sit alongside their appropriate section offering collective suggestions and individual tips, and occasionally demonstrating a difficult passage. Point by point, the players in the String Ensemble and the Riley Bowstars worked on rhythms, dynamics and bow control, eventually drawing it altogether in an impressive performance of the whole movement.

There followed a wide-ranging question and answer session before the Brodsky’s short recital. This included Shostakovitch’s 7th String Quartet, the first time a complete quartet has been played at a PCM workshop. The morning finished, as it had begun, in rousing style with a spirited performance of the Sabre Dance by Khachaturian. A pupil proposed a vote of thanks.

“That was Awful!”

The 2015/16 season’s last two PCM workshops took place on 24th February, given by Glasgow-based wind ensemble, Cameo Clarinet Quartet.

In the morning at Rattray Primary School, Blairgowrie, the first session saw the Quartet playing with and coaching the school’s own wind players, before being joined in the second session for a concert for all in years 4-7. In the afternoon, at Robert Douglas Memorial Primary School, Scone, the opening session was with the school’s class for children on the autistic spectrum and the final concert had the Assembly Hall packed wall to wall with junior school pupils.

Each session, small and large, was a well-judged mix of short pieces (from Piazzolla to The Pink Panther) and games and exercises – “feel the floor vibrate when I play my lowest note”; “come and conduct”; “close your eyes and imagine….”. There was a great sense of involvement and appreciation throughout. The only heart-stopping moment came in the special needs session when an excited voice was heard to say “That was Awful!” A member of staff quickly translated this as “Awfully Good”.

Head counting was difficult but it was estimated that the double workshop reached approximately 340 children, including 23 young players from the two schools. Thanks to instrument teacher Fran Pybus and senior staff of the schools.

Watch Out For The Kinross Septet

Perth Chamber Music’s second workshop took the renowned Brodsky Quartet to Kinross High School on 12th November 2015. The school has an impressive number of string ensembles. In the first two sessions of the morning, the Brodskys worked separately with a quartet and a quintet, and then together with a septet. The already high standard of playing allowed them to experiment and to concentrate together on detail.

After the interval, the third session was a full-blooded recital. It opened with the septet playing Grieg’s Elegiac Melody “Spring” and demonstrating everything they had learnt from the masterclass. The Brodskys then took over. After pieces by Borodin and Mendelssohn, they brought the workshop to an end and the audience to its feet with a demonic arrangement of Paganini’s last Caprice.

It was cellist Jacky Thomas who pointed out the real significance of the workshop. 43 years ago, the Brodsky Quartet had started as a school ensemble. So watch out for the Kinross Septet!

Flying Start to the Workshops

On 6th October our 2015/16 season of school workshops got off to the best possible start with The Schubert Ensemble’s only visit to Scotland this year. Over 65 enthusiastic pupils from Perth’s North Inch Campus participated.

Part One for the primary classes consisted of a lively discussion built around hearing music excerpts of romantic and contemporary music. The audience was challenged to identify playing techniques and the subtle ways the Quartet communicated. After that, it was the audience’s turn. Their questions continued even after the interval bell, and as they filed out came the coup de grace – “why do you frown at the start of the piece and smile at the end?”!

Part Two for the older string and piano players was a fascinating examination of an arrangement by Judith Weir of an old folk melody. The dissection showed the simple but effective use of instrumentation, rhythm, harmony, ornamentation and dynamics to hold the listeners’ attention.

This was a workshop that covered a lot of ground in a short time … just like the Schubert Ensemble, who told us they had given over 1,000 concerts in 40 countries.

Grand Finale

The last two school workshops this season (2014-15) were held in Perth early in March.

On 9 March international musicians violinist Chloe Hanslip and pianist Danny Driver gave a Mega-masterclass to ten pupils from Milnathort Primary, Kinross High, Perth Grammar, Perth High and St.John’s Academy. Each played their chosen piece, then the audience of pupils, parents and instrument teachers listened closely as positives were praised and technical tips shared on how to phrase passages, vary vibrato or blend with an accompanist or an orchestra. Progress was immediately evident. The workshop had its lighter moments. Bang on cue in the middle of an Irish Idyll the school bell rang, sounding just like a bagpipe note!

Chloe Hanslip put her finger on the key to successful music-making when she told one of the younger players, “You sounded as if you were really enjoying it!!”

Two days later, the final school workshop in 2014-15 took place when Cameo Clarinets visited Fairview School for children with special needs. There were three lively sessions for primary and younger and older secondary pupils. All were rumbustious occasions, full of fun and with maximum participation.

The Quartet had plenty of activities to engage their audiences. There were chances to ‘feel’ the bass clarinet’s bottom note, to touch the instruments and their keys, to guess what animal or film was being described, to close eyes and listen, or to join in with the school’s own percussion instruments.

The highlight of all three sessions was when children came forward to conduct the ensemble. 100 Pipers an’ A’ was a funereal lament one moment and a furious reel the next! At the end, Head Teacher Fiona Gillespie thanked the Quartet for a great afternoon.

Perth Chamber Music acknowledges the support of The Thompson Trust, Enterprise Music Scotland and Perth and Kinross Council in organising the workshops. A new season of events is being planned for the autumn.

Who says Mondays are dull?

Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet opened their January 2015 tour of Scotland with a Monday morning workshop for 35 wind players at Kinross High School. Over the two hours the London based group played excerpts of Grieg, Piazzolla and Duke Ellington, interspersed with knowledgeable questions and discussion of “growling”, slap tonguing, the Blues Scale and an impressive demonstration of circular breathing that drew great applause!

The group got everyone to their feet in a big circle for a testing rhythmic “Pass the Parcel”. Great fun and it all showed what skills and multi-tasking professional performers need to have.

Principal Teacher Paul Rosie thanked Kaleidoscope and wished them well for their evening concert in Perth and the rest of their tour.

Contrasts at Crieff

On 12 November 2014 the Atalanta Piano Quartet presented an absorbing workshop to 23 of Crieff High School’s senior music students. It was built around excerpts of quartets by Beethoven, Schumann and Faure. But the mysterious world of Martin Butler’s Sequenza Notturna most captured the imagination of the very perceptive audience. Its contrast of sound effects and its use of harmonics and the mute led to a lively discussion, and contrasts were also vividly demonstrated and discussed when Atalanta juxtaposed the scherzos of the Schumann and the Faure quartets.

For this workshop, Perth Chamber Music combined forces with colleagues in Strathearn Music Society. The next workshops sponsored by Enterprise Music Scotland and the Thomson Trust take place early in January in Kinross and Perth.

Why are there only four instruments in a quartet? (1)

This was just one of many questions fired at the Castalian String Quartet by children at Viewlands Primary School on 9th October 2014. The 40-strong audience wanted to know:

  • How did you start playing?
  • What inspired you?
  • Where did you all meet?
  • What is a typical day for you?
  • What is the weirdest place you’ve ever played in? (2)

In return, the Quartet challenged the children to listen to all the different moods created, and the different techniques required, by excerpts of Schubert, Ravel and Mozart. Just as the Quartet had responded brilliantly to their questions, so, too, the children entered fully into the discussion.

Only a persistent telephone over the school tannoy brought the workshop towards its close. Regional Co-ordinator of music, Allan Young, called for an enthusiastic vote of thanks.

Working hard, the Castalians were able to include a second workshop during their visit. This was at Kilgraston School. They offered a master-class on Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to 5 promising string pupils and then gave a performance to over 100 pupils. The response was enthusiastic!


  1. Because the four instruments are the perfect combination!
  2. A Japanese prison and a Mongolian Village orphanage!

Highland Gig

The last of Perth Chamber Music’s 2013 – 14 school workshops took place on 17th February 2014 when the McKenzie Sawers Saxophone Duo visited Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy. Set in the heart of Highland Perthshire, the school has a fine tradition of wind playing, well demonstrated during the afternoon’s event. Twenty saxophonists, clarinettists and flautists attended the workshop which took the form of a masterclass for four of the school’s senior saxophonists.

The tuition was adroitly handled by Sue McKenzie and Ingrid Sawers. First a chance for each soloist to perform chosen pieces, then discussion and work on three or four different points:

  • how to prepare to perform
  • how to tune up
  • how to indicate a speed and nail the opening
  • how to handle nerves
  • and a host of technical tips on improvisation, dealing with notorious notes and difficult fingering, and even the pitfalls of buying an instrument.

The workshop finished with open questions which continued long after the school bell had rung!

Progress, of both technique and interpretation, was evident during the afternoon. This momentum was carried forward the next day when a party from the school, led by Principal Teacher Gordon Murch, made the long journey to Sue and Ingrid’s inspirational recital in St John’s Kirk, Perth.

High Winds in Perth

On 28th January 2014 Perth High School was the venue of an exciting music workshop for around fifty young wind players. The afternoon event was led by the Scottish Reed Trio, one of Scotland’s finest wind ensembles.

Oboist Catherine Earnshaw, clarinettist Fran Pybus and bassoonist Heather Kent performed a wide range of music from baroque to contemporary, to demonstrate what their instruments could achieve. Between the pieces they explained how the instruments had developed technically and how the music had also changed from compositions for occasions to pieces written with particular instruments and ensembles in mind. They played pieces in different ways to show how embellishments and dynamics could change them dramatically. The audience responded with searching questions (‘What does blowing a reed feel like?’) and knowledgeable comments (‘That was a tierce de Picardie!’)

On behalf of the school Philip Alexander, instrument instructor, and Allan Young, Regional Director of Music, thanked the Scottish Reed Trio for the workshop. The workshop was organised by local music charity Perth Chamber Music with generous support by Enterprise Music Scotland and the Thomson Charitable Trust.

St Petersburg meets Milnathort

Wednesday 2nd October 2013 was a big day in Milnathort. The mighty St Petersburg String Quartet has played all over the world, “everywhere except Africa and the North and South Poles”. One of Russia’s finest groups of musicians, it came to present a workshop at Milnathort Primary School.

St. Petersburg String Quartet Workshop

The primary school itself boasts a talented young quartet. Three of its pupils, violinists Ola, Audrey and Lily and cellist Lorna from Kinross High School played fearlessly for the Russian maestros in front of other string players from Milnathort and Kinross Primary Schools. In the masterclass they were coached in the finer points of ensemble playing by the leader Alla Aranovskaya:

  • How to make the perfect start
  • Identifying the most important “voice” at any one time
  • Thinking of the rise and fall of the music
  • Conveying the different moods of pieces, like sunny and gloomy days

The girls were quick to respond and by the end the difference in the playing was clear.

The workshop was then joined by the other 200 pupils from the school. Welcomed by the head teacher, the St Petersburg Quartet then played movements by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Shostakovitch and Benjamin Britten. “Shostakovitch at Milnathort! Who would have thought it?” was one comment. Not easy listening. But the whole school did listen, riveted for the second half of the workshop, and then had the chance to fire a host of questions at the quartet:

  • Q: How old is your violin?
    A: Nearly three hundred years old [gasps]
  • Q: How do you know what to play?
    A: [More gasps when the black page of music was held up]
  • Q: Why did you start playing?
    A: Because my mum pushed me [laughs]
  • Q: How much do you practise? (This from a mum in the audience)
    A: Six hours every day [amazement]
  • Q: What country have you liked playing in most?
    A: Scotland [loud cheers]

Some questions had to go unanswered, for time ran out. Sharon Doyle, the school’s string teacher, thanked the musicians on behalf of the school. On the way out, there were umpteen more thank yous, and a last word from one boy, “That Was Awesome!”

With financial support from Enterprise Music Scotland and local trust funding, the workshop was organised by Allan Young, Director of Music for the region, and by local charity, Perth Chamber Music, whose next concert on 6th November stars violinist Jennifer Pike and pianist Tom Poster. Children free!